Community Church Sermons
January 18, 2015
Who’s in Charge?
Interim Senior Pastor Dan Ivins
The Text Says:
Today’s Epiphany story appears only in the Gospel of Matthew. It is about a field full of both wheat and weeds, an indication that the signs of the kingdom are never pure and unambiguous. The workers see something wrong in the field and offer to fix it. But the owner said no. Maybe with all the imperfection in our world, you’ve wondered why the Creator didn’t want it fixed. If so, then you’re in just the frame of mind Matthew had in mind, to explore that together in worship this morning.
“Let both the wheat and weeds grow together until the harvest” (Matthew 13:30).
The Preacher Says:
I’ve always been intrigued by this scripture from Matthew’s Gospel: “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You traverse over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as you are” (Matthew 23:15).
About this time at my house, before the sun comes up, I can sit in front of the fireplace and watch the golden flames dancing off our dark hardwoods. When the sun rises over the horizon, it brightens up our white marble. Then a few minutes later a tiny rainbow does its thing from the glass table nearby. It’s quite a display in our own living room! The natural forces out there have a life of their own.
What struck me about it is, the sun’s gonna come up whether I do anything about it or not. Yeah there was a time, back in my activist days when I thought I had to help the sun come up! Like it depended upon me. That doesn’t mean I believe things any less than I used to. It just means that I don’t have to do anything to make what I believe happen.
The problem of people with a cause, is they often do more harm for their cause than if they did nothing at all. Trying to bend the world according to the way we see it. So we spend a lotta time trying to control what can’t be controlled. When all we can do is manage ourselves. Or mis-manage, as the case may be.
Matthew’s Gospel has a string of stories about the mis-managers that frustrated Jesus. Even though their motive was noble, still they make things worse, trying to make them better. It has to do with the weeds.
Examples abound, like the Pharisees thinking they were doing the work of God by weeding out Jesus. Saul of Tarsus believed with a passion that “Stephen should be stoned,” because he thought he knew the difference between the wheat and the chaff. The folks defending Allah out there make it harder for unbelievers to believe in Allah. I don’t see people lining up to join. You won’t win any converts by whacking off their heads! Their intentions may be well-founded. But you defend God like you defend a lion. You get out of his way! But more “children are in hell,” because we can’t keep from getting in God’s way. Good intentions or not.
Our text this morning is about that. The story of the “wheat and the weeds” goes against the grain because it’s soft on evil. In light of last week’s Islamic terrorism, it seems not only naive, but leaves us with few good options to get rid of the messes. It even looks like God is either asleep on the job or his incompetent cousin is running things from the parlor. Either God’s not good-enough or God-enough to eradicate evil. And we’re left to wonder who's in charge out there? If God, then why’s the world today so full of intolerant weeds? Or couldn't the church at least be a neat field of superior wheat?
Not according to Jesus. He didn’t even think the kingdom of heaven is pure. It might’ve started out that way, but sometime “during the night, while everybody was asleep, an enemy snuck in and sowed weeds among the wheat!" Oh this one’s tricky! Putting out darnel, a nasty wheat look‑alike. Except the seeds are toxic, with roots like fishing line. If it's not separated from the wheat, the darnel gets ground into flour. Bake some cornbread outa that stuff and you're gonna have a big ol’ belly ache!
Everybody has weeds; not only in our gardens but in our lives. Some are just irritating, like poison ivy; they make you scratch and itch. But others are deadly. Their purpose for being is to do others lethal harm. Why doesn’t God do something about it? God seems to favor the weeds! It just makes sense to get rid of them now. But God says, “later.”
The workers knew what to do! "Let us handle the weeds." We’ll clean up the field once and for all. Now that’s a common sense solution that we can understand. And we've seen a lot of it lately, haven't we?People being shot all over the place. Criminals. Cops. French Satirists. A few years back some demented soul shot the Pope! You want to go to hell 1st class, shoot the Pope! “This guy shot the Pope, put him at the front of the line!’ Give him a front-row seat! Why would anybody want to shoot the Pope?
And some poor-excuse for a father down in Florida tossed his 5 year old daughter off a bridge to her death. A 5 year old kid! The weeds man! They’re always with us. Wherever people are trying to purify the field with hostile methods, that was the worker’s solution.
Even among Jesus’ disciples were "James and John, the sons of thunder," calling down fire upon gentile heads! No good half‑breed Samaritans! Mixtures, all. “Let us handle it!” But whoever does it, does so without permission, because … the Owner won’t allow it!
Well why? "Because in gathering the weeds, you uproot the wheat. Let them both grow together, till the harvest. At the harvest, the reapers can collect the weeds first, and tie them up to be burned. But gather the wheat in my barn."
This is a stunning proposal: Just leave the weeds alone? Let them have their way? For people who need a text, there’s even a scripture for it, Rev. 22:11 "Let the evildoer continue to do evil, and the filthy still be filthy…" That feels pretty lame. But it also suggests we can do more harm when we think we're doing good, than if we did nothing at all. Matthew dubs it “doubling the size of hell!”
Or it could be that nobody’s qualified to separate the good from the bad. I don’t know anybody who is. I know plenty who think they are. The temptation to play God. Or work magic. That's the greatest thing about Jesus in my estimation -- he didn't go around trying to be God all the time. And was fine with God doing things on his own time table.
Some folks can't stand imperfection. So in trying to make everything perfect, they eliminate something that looks like a weed. But after closer examination the weeds are still standing. We can’t always tell the difference because they grow in the same ground and get tangled up at the roots. You can't uproot one without the other. So there’s collateral damage. By extracting the weeds a lot of innocent bystanders get wasted. Better to let them grow together for now, till the harvest. Weeding is a future task, not a present one.
Only thing that’s needed is a more patience on our part, and a willingness to live with imperfection. Some people just can't stop themselves from meddling. We gotta fix it; get rid of the undesirables. Do it our way. What drives this parable is not the weeds but the workers, who end up doing more harm than good. The way to go is to attack the weeds! That’s why the church is against sin. Or might the church just go about being wheat, next to the weeds?
God knows pulling up the weeds makes messes messier. The cure is more destructive than the presence of weeds. But God can live with a mixed field, because he expects growth not perfection. We think God expects perfection, but growth is acceptable with God. I’m going with the Boss on this one. The best solution to evil is still for the wheat to be wheat.
In my former church in Providence, they number the preachers. Over a span of 300 years, I’m the only one who ever made anything out of it. When I discovered I was #36 in the same line as Roger Williams, I was proud of that. So when I was installed, they gave me an orange UT jersey with my number and name on it. I always appreciated that church’s sense of humor. It is a good quality to have in any church.
Now the Catholics know 36 is nothing compared to all of their Popes. They got a 1700 year head-start on us! When it comes to installation, boy, the Catholics do it right! Ya’ll remember their “search process” for Pope Francis? They send up smoke signals! Like the Indians! People wondering what are all those cardinals doing in there, trying to find a Pope? Black smoke, means no Pope. White smoke, Pope.
Hey Jim (Elliott), ya’ll oughta try that! All these interested members, longing for a Sr. Pastor, please hurry! What’s the Search Committee doing in there? They could wait out the in the parking lot and watch for the smoke. Black smoke. No preacher yet. White smoke, got a hot one! Then yellow smoke? “Send more Pizza!” Don’t’cha wish it was that easy? (Not disrespecting our catholic friends, just funning with the process)
The Catholics have been at it all the way back to St. Peter. So they’re up to 266 Popes, depending on your sources. But my favorite Pope was John XXIII, one of God's great saints. You may not know he had a habit when he prayed, by ending his lengthy prayers each night ... talking to himself.
After a day of laborious church-work, he’d ask himself this question after struggling with insolvable church problems: "So who governs the church? You or God? Very well, then Angelo, go to sleep." In these days “before the harvest,” can there be a better attitude than following the example of #23? That may be the only way any of us preachers can get some sleep!
Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli got it right. Matthew would agree: Let God be God and us be the church. By staying true to our roots and to the one who planted us. And leave the harvest to the Boss.
Think of all the weeds in this corrupt, violent world, in our government, our churches, ourselves. “Very well Angelo, go to sleep.” And I bet that’s the only time you’ll ever hear a preacher advise the congregation to go to sleep!